The forty-odd horseback riders charged along the dirt road with their weapons at the ready. Palan had dismounted earlier and was running alongside Raea. His face contorted as his nose wrinkled and his eyes narrowed. “They’re almost right next to us.”
“Stick to the right!” Raea shouted and held her right arm straight to the side. The wedge formation flattened as the soldiers moved closer to the edge of the forest while charging.
“How do goblins fight?” Palan asked and glanced at Raea. Her lips were pressed together underneath her visor with her brow furrowed.
“Like animals. They pose no threat against our armor,” Raea said, keeping her eyes peeled. “The problem is defending our horses; their armor is in the third outpost.”
“Why is it there and not on them?”
“It limits their mobility,” Owen said from behind Raea. “The road between the outposts are peaceful. Except for these supposed goblins of yours. Where are they anyways?”
A scream that sounded like a pig squealing echoed through the air. The ground shuddered and a web of cracks emerged on the dirt road. Steam blasted out from between the cracks, causing the earth to shatter and shift into unstable hexagonal chunks. The horses neighed and the angels swore as animal and rider alike toppled to the ground. Only Palan and his dire wolf remained upright as a horde of goblins appeared from the forests on both sides of the road.
Most of the diminutive goblins, which were half Palan’s height, wore loincloths, while the larger goblins wore armor similar to the angels. All of the goblins were green, except for the largest one. Its skin was blue and it was taller than Palan by a head. A necklace of skulls rested in front of its chest and spiraling tattoos decorated its body. In its right hand was a staff made of bone and in its left was a brown metal orb.
The diminutive goblins yelled incoherently as they charged at the fallen angels with crude clubs made of wood. The taller goblins followed behind the shorter ones, sporting lances along with their armor. The goblins encircled the angels while the blue goblin stood near the forest with four armored goblins by its side. It let out a pig-like squeal and raised the orb into the air. The orb visibly dimmed, but the ground rumbled again as the dirt turned into mud underneath the angels.
The angels struggled to their feet and tried to fend the goblins off with their lances while sinking into the ground. The goblins’ wooden clubs bounced off of their armor, but the angels still grunted when they got hit. Raea smacked a goblin away with the butt of her halberd as she pulled her right leg out of the mud. She shouted, “Aim to disable! Minimize ca—”
“Kill them all!” Palan roared as his metal dagger flashed in his hands. He kicked Emergency Victuals in the butt, breaking the goblins’ encirclement with the dire wolf’s body. The dire wolf whined as it scrambled to its feet while snapping at the throats of the fallen goblins nearby. Palan ran through the gap created by Emergency Victuals and charged towards the blue goblin. The four armored goblins stepped forward and created a semi-circle around the chanting blue goblin. Its staff was moving in circles above its head with a faint mist forming in the air above it.
Owen pulled his lance out of the shoulder of an armored goblin and glanced in Palan’s direction. He muttered and kicked away a goblin that hit his thigh with a club, “What is he doing?”
Palan was running at full speed towards the four armored guards who had their spears pointed at him. Raea knocked away a group of goblins with a sweep of her halberd and shouted, “Palan! Stop! It’s too dangerous!”
Contrary to everyone’s expectations, Palan halted mid-stride and pulled a cloth pouch out of his leather sack. He loosened the string holding the pouch closed and threw it as hard as he could in the blue goblin’s direction. The four guards ducked their heads and avoided the pouch before snickering. Palan sneered and crossed his arms over his chest. The cloth pouch landed by the blue goblin’s feet and exploded into a cloud of green powder, enveloping it and its four guards.
The unlucky goblins started to sneeze as their eyes teared up. Moments later, they began to cough and spasm. Black blood poured out of their nostrils and ears. They screamed and clawed at their necks as their throats swelled, blocking their air passages. The blue goblin dropped its staff and orb as it fell to the floor and began to writhe, clutching its neck. A bloated tongue lolled out of its mouth as its eyes rolled upwards into its head before it finally stopped twitching.
Palan held his breath and charged into the green air, scooping up the orb by the blue goblin’s corpse. He tossed it into his sack and picked up the staff before dashing out of the poisonous air. All the remaining goblins in the encirclement froze as their eyes glazed over. The angels took advantage of their stupor and knocked the ones that they could to the ground. Moments later, the goblins blinked and glanced around before letting out chirps. They tossed their weapons to the side and sprinted away, heading back towards the forests they came from.
Palan ignored the goblins as they rushed around him into the forest as he traced his fingers along the contours of his newly acquired staff. The surrounding angels helped their horses out of the mud and applied first-aid where needed. They gazed in Palan’s direction and shuddered as the green mist hovering over the five corpses began to disperse. Owen snarled as he marched towards Palan, gripping his lance with his right hand.
“What was that?!” Owen asked as he pointed the spear at Palan. Palan’s gaze shifted from the staff to Owen’s spearhead.
“What was what?” Palan asked as he lowered the staff.
“Why did you go off on your own?” Owen asked, narrowing his eyes. “Lady Raea told you to stop. Orders are meant to be followed.”
“I followed her orders,” Palan said and snorted. “I stopped when she told me to. I think the lack of smoke coming out of my hair is enough evidence of that.”
“Do not play word games with me, demon,” Owen said and gnashed his teeth. “It is fine if you die, but do not drag Lady Raea down with you. What do you think happens to her if you die?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, old man,” Palan said and narrowed his eyes as he dropped the staff. He retrieved another cloth pouch from his bag. “But I do know that you’re really pissing me off right now.” He tugged on the pouches’ string, loosening its opening. Owen’s body tensed as he grasped his spear with both hands.
“Stop it! Both of you!” Raea shouted as she inserted herself between Owen and Palan. She turned towards Palan and lowered her head. “You did a good job, but, please, do not run off on your own next time. I was worried about you.” She bit her lip before sighing and turning around to face Owen. “It is my fault for not leading everyone properly. Please do not blame Palan for my shortcomings. Even though we had an advanced warning, we were still placed in a disadvantageous position.”
Owen frowned and lowered his spear. He shook his head. “Do not blame youself, Lady Raea,” he said. “There was no way to know that the enemies had a magic user.”
Palan snorted and sealed his cloth pouch before placing it back in his sack. He glared at Owen before picking the staff off the floor. Raea scratched her head and said, “The staff is just a decoration. The only way to enhance magic is through the use of conduits. The orb you picked up—”
“You can’t have it,” Palan said and frowned as he placed his hand on his bag.
Raea sighed. “I wasn’t going to ask for it, sheesh,” she said and turned around. She addressed the soldiers. “How are our casualties? If there is anyone who needs me to cure them, please speak up.”
“My horse could use some healing,” a soldier said. A few others nodded in agreement. Owen shot a glare at Palan before following after Raea. Palan’s eyes narrowed before he tossed the bone staff to Emergency Victuals.
“Free snack,” Palan said. Emergency Victuals lowered its head and looked upwards at Palan. A footprint could still be seen on the dire wolf’s butt. Emergency Victuals sighed before reluctantly chomping down on the staff.